- Kirsty Smitten, 28, Sheffield, awarded for founding spin-out company making first new class of antibiotics in over 35 years
- Other category award winners at the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2023 include an innovative pet natural wellbeing business; a successful fast food start-up that blends Scottish and Dutch street food; and a family-run care home
Twenty-eight-year-old Kirsty Smitten, the CEO and founder of Sheffield drug development spin-out business, MetalloBio Limited, that is developing a new antimicrobial platform technology to both prevent and treat antimicrobial-resistant infections, has been named as the overall UK winner of this FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2023.
Driven by saving lives, Smitten, who paradoxically and devastatingly has herself recently been diagnosed with a rare form of heart cancer, was described as “the ultimate example of an entrepreneur” by FSB National Chair Martin McTague.
The announcement was made by co-hosts Clare Balding and JJ Chalmers at the UK final held in Birmingham on 18 May. Kirsty surpassed more than 3,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs which entered this year’s awards from across the UK.
Following her Ph.D. at the University of Sheffield, Kirsty Smitten co-founded MetalloBio as a spin-out company from the university, turning its academic research into a sustainable company with real-world impact by developing antimicrobial platform technology to both prevent and treat antimicrobial-resistant infections. In a short space of time, she has managed to develop the technology up to the preclinical and commercially ready stages, and successfully raised over £1 million in grant funding and £1 million in equity investment for the business.
FSB National Chair Martin McTague said:
“Kirsty Smitten is the ultimate example of an entrepreneur. Her impassioned drive to save lives has seen her excel in enterprise in an incredibly short time. Like so many of the UK’s entrepreneurs, Kirsty has created and developed a company that has a huge global impact. She is a supreme model of what women in STEM enterprise can, and do, achieve.
“Kirsty’s accomplishments shine a spotlight on to why it’s crucial that our entrepreneurs have the right government support – Kirsty herself being a previous Innovate UK Young Innovator. The world would be a poorer place in terms of health, economy and science without the means to encourage and support this kind of entrepreneurial innovation. My deepest congratulations to Kirsty on winning this FSB award and my sincere thanks and appreciation go to her for all she has achieved.
“Entrepreneurship and academic institutions have a symbiotic relationship, which could be further seized upon with the right government support; the creation of new spin-out companies, such as the one Kirsty founded, funnels money back into research, benefits local economic development and creates new jobs.”
FSB UK Award Winner 2023 Dr. Kirsty Smitten said:
“I’m thrilled to have been named the UK’s best entrepreneur by the Federation of Small Businesses – it means a lot to be recognised by an organisation like FSB.
“I’m going through a tough time in my life; I unfortunately have a very rare form of heart cancer. So, it’s been difficult for me to come here today to the FSB Awards final because I’m taking a potential risk with infection. It’s a very big thing for me to win this award, so thank you very much.
“In my PhD I made a new class of antibiotics. A new class of antibiotics hasn’t reached the clinic in over 35 years. People ask me why I do what I do, and it’s because I want to save lives, not because I want to make money, if I did, I’d have gone into oncology.”
The annual FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards celebrate the achievements of the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses and self-employed. With 12 categories, a series of area finals takes place across the UK’s nations and regions, with the category winners of each going forward to the UK final.
The UK FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2023 winners are:
Diversity and Inclusion Award – Winner: BE.Xcellence CIC, Cardiff
BE.Xcellence strives to increase the social mobility of ethnic minorities in South Wales, by identifying gaps in education, business and media. It aims to raise representation, so that all voices are heard and lived experiences understood. Whilst championing diversity and inclusion, and celebrating positive contributions to Wales, its projects eliminate stereotypes and provide awareness of diverse groups to the wider Wales communities.
Family Business of the Year Award – Winner: Hale Place Care Solutions, Tonbridge
Hale Place offers a full range of personalised services to older people with dementia in the West Kent area. The care homes are based in a small village just outside Tonbridge.
Microbusiness of the Year Award – Winner: Yellow Hare, Isle of Tiree
This small (6x3 metre) licensed cafe and gift shop, located at the ferry terminal on the Inner Hebridean Isle of Tiree, opened in 2018 as the island’s first dedicated roast coffee shop and first public launderette. When the pandemic hit in 2020, the fledgling business had no reserves but pivoted to selling ‘bake boxes’ mailed to customers’ doors. Like many small businesses, staffing has been an issue in recent years, but Yellow Hare has been creative in its recruitment strategy – even taking on holidaymakers. In four years of trading, turnover has tripled.
Service Excellence Award – Winner: CaliPro Software LTD, Leicester
CaliPro provides bespoke modular software solutions designed specifically for calibration service industries, as well as ongoing development that is affordable for SMEs. It uses an innovative build process, that offering a solution adapted to match each customer’s unique requirements, helping to amplify their USP’s.
Exporter of the Year – Winner: Creative Nature, West Molesey
Creative Nature produces allergy-safe snacks and baking mixes for people with serious food allergies, exporting to over 16 countries including the USA, UAE and Australia. The business model encourages export customers to place orders through UK-based trade accounts that arrange the shipping, reaching stores in countries where large distribution channels aren’t established. The strategy being for smaller accounts to grow, before importing direct from Creative Nature when they need full pallets or container quantities, bypassing customs red tape.
Start-up Business of the Year – Winner: ABERDAM Dutch Fries, Aberdeen
This start-up sprung from the team co-organising an outdoor street food event to help local street food traders who had suffered financial losses due to the pandemic get back on their feet in a COVID compliant space in 2021. The team decided to launch a small venture themselves to help fund the events running costs and came up with a Dutch fries concept, taking inspiration from the fries stalls of Amsterdam, a high-volume product with an untapped market in Scotland. The start-up launched by spending £5,000 on a credit card to buy initial stock and borrowing equipment. The menu development, graphic design, branding and marketing is all done by the founders making ABERDAM a true self-starter success story. First year turnover was £490,000 with the forecast to achieve £1.4m in revenue at the end of April 2023.
Larger Small Business of the Year (10-100 employees) – Winner: Alt Labs, Middlesbrough
Alt Labs aims to help businesses and organisations to unlock innovation and create opportunities. It has worked with clients including LNER and Transport for Wales, as well as developing a UK-first reporting app for Cleveland Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office. It also works with several start-ups. Based in Middlesbrough’s innovative co-working space, Flok, which Alt Labs also runs as a creative tech hub for businesses across the North East. The complex includes an event arena and a podcast production studio, as well as workspace for up to 150 people.
Self-Employed/Freelancer of the Year – Winner: Chris Garland Training, Knutsford
Chris Garland has grown his scalable medical and safety training business to partner with a wide variety of organisations including FSTE 100 companies, schools, government organisations, charities, independent shops and individuals UK-wide. The business offers over 150 courses, including first aid, pre-hospital care, fire and evacuation, mental health, health and safety and food safety. Chris’s five-year business plan includes a new premises, running two courses per day with training spaces complete with all the necessary training equipment ensuring experiential, hands-on learning for every attendee.
Sustainability Award – Winner: EGO Technology Ltd., Burton-on-Trent
A family-run IT business that regenerates surplus technology from corporate clients, calculating the CO2 offset for IT reuse and recycling enables its clients to move towards their net zero targets in a simple and accessible way. By 2022, EGO Technology had offset 1,562 tonnes of CO2 with the recovery and reuse of corporate devices. The business has committed to a zero-landfill value supply chain.
Business & Product Innovation Award – Winner: Be:Loved, Hurley
This innovative pet wellness brand creates natural, sustainable and ethical pet products. Inspired by an old farming family heirloom, a recipe book full of farmhouse remedies for farm stock using nothing but nature’s harvest. Handpicked from hedgerows, the range includes calming balms, soothing salves, scented shampoo bars and spritzes to reassure sore paws and help nourish coats. The brand began trialling in 2018, before soft launching during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with the backing of UK distributors. Using market insights to improve the ranges, a product development pipeline is now in place. With ambitions to export to the EU and North America markets, the business recently opened a new collaborative workspace which it credits for being able recruit and retain a strong team.
Young Entrepreneur of the Year (aged 30 and under) and overall UK winner 2023 – Winner: Kirsty Smitten, Sheffield
A Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow and an Innovate UK Young Innovator with a Ph.D. in chemistry and microbiology, Kirsty Smitten spun new business, MetalloBio, out of The University of Sheffield at the end of her Ph.D. MetalloBio is developing a novel antimicrobial platform technology to both prevent and treat antimicrobial-resistant infections. Antimicrobial-resistant infections are predicted to cause 10 million annual deaths globally by 2050, costing the global economy £66 trillion. This equates to one death every three seconds. MetalloBio's technology is being developed as a systemic antimicrobial to treat respiratory tract infections and a coating for medical devices.